The ‘Baby Factory’ Business
Child harvesting is a relatively new term that involves breeding, trafficking, and abuse of infants and their biological mothers. The term covers a wide variety of situations and degrees of economic, social, and physical coercion.
In the past, there were quite some horrific stories of baby farms where young women/girls are kept and repeatedly impregnated (often by rape) by their captors to fuel the booming child trafficking industry, and the area around Port Harcourt was said to be a hotbed of this secretive trade.
The majority of the women whose children are sold are young unmarried women from very poor homes, and who are scared of social stigmatization associated with unwanted teenage pregnancies. Some of these young girls go to the baby factory after searching for abortion clinics, but the others are often kidnapped and brainwashed.
Usually, the young girls who end up in these institutions are promised care, and they agree to give up their children. But things never go as agreed. They are exploited and raped, and most of them suffer and die from sexually transmitted diseases.
Once, footage from one police raid on a maternity home run by one Dr. James Ezuma showed his dazzling collection of luxury cars. It was in sharp contrast to the wretched conditions in which the expectant mothers – pregnant girls, ranging in age from 14 to 19 – are being kept.
Cases and Raids
The first publicly reported case of a baby factory was published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation in 2006. In 2008, a very strong, almost invisible network of baby factories claiming to be orphanages, was revealed in Enugu, Enugu State (Nigeria) by police raids.
Also, at different times in 2011, 2013 and 2015, the Nigerian Police raided hospitals in Aba, Abia and Ihiala, Anambra where they dismantled more child harvesting programs.
An Organized Crime
Due to the stigmatization of childless couples in Southern Nigeria, and issues around cultural acceptability of surrogacy and adoption, infertile women are the ones who majorly patronize these baby factories. Their patronage has, no doubt, contributed greatly to the growth of the industry. It is understandable why a desperate childless couple might do anything to have a baby, but those who exploit their desperation for profit are the ones to be punished.
It is no longer news that these factories hide under the guise of serving the needs of childless women and girls from poor homes. But the truth is that a high number of infants are often eventually sold to owners of plantations, mines, factories, and brothels; where they are forced to work. There have even been few allegations of some child harvesting programs that provide infants to be tortured or sacrificed in black magic or witchcraft rituals.
The incidences of baby factories have gradually added to the plethora of human rights issues bedeviling Nigeria and have thus posed a new dimension to issues of child abuse and trafficking in recent times. Scholars center on poverty as the main factor which launched the practice into one of the most lucrative organized crimes in Nigeria.
What the Law Says
The United Nations has pronounced child harvesting Nigeria’s third most common crime behind financial fraud and drug trafficking, despite a 2003 law against human trafficking.
Where the maximum sentence is life in prison, sentencing remains at the judges’ discretion, and this means that offenders can get away with just a fine.
The Way Forward
It is very evident that the judgment meted out in the past is not strict enough. How else do you explain the immediate reestablishment months after raids? The secret network these farmers have built makes it difficult to eradicate the scourge. They still go ahead with operations even when they know what the penalty is.
The general opinion is that the absolute dismantling of baby factories is no small task. Its eradication will involve a multifaceted approach; one that includes advocacy and enacting of legislation that bars infant trafficking and imposes harsh consequences for their patrons. Also, programs to educate young girls on preventing unwanted pregnancies are needed.
Lastly, awareness and acceptability of adoption and surrogacy as options for infertile couples should be explored to diminish the need for these illegal baby factories. This way, young girls and women can choose if they want to keep their babies or not.
Where they choose not to, they will be provided opportunities to give up their children under dignified circumstances, and even follow their progress.